FBI agents dish on Tim Cook, Apple in private texts discussing iPhone encryption debate

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Documents recently aired in an ongoing investigation into the FBI's handling of the Hillary Clinton probe show texts between two agency officials discussing 2016's encryption debate, offering a revealing look at government sentiment at the time.




Made public by the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, private texts between FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok and bureau lawyer Lisa Page touch on a range of hot-button topics. Among them is Apple's refusal to comply with a court order requesting the company unlock an iPhone related to the San Bernardino terror attacks, a move that triggered intense debate in government and tech industry circles.

Spotted by Business Insider, the exchange is obviously not representative of all FBI agents or their associates, but its contents sheds light on the opinions of insiders close to the incendiary issue. Such access is a rarity, especially from closed government sources.

As a refresher, the FBI in 2016 sought and acquired a federal court order that required Apple to assist in extracting data from an iPhone 5c used by San Bernardino gunman Syed Rizwan Farook. Apple declined, vowing to fight the demand on the basis that unlocking, creating a backdoor into, or otherwise tampering with one iPhone's security protocols would put all users at risk.

The Department of Justice later stepped in with a motion to force Apple's hand. Just as the case was set to enter hearings, the FBI found an outside contractor capable of cracking the iPhone 5c's defenses. The DOJ consequently dropped its side of the case, ending proceedings before a precedent-setting judgment could be delivered.

The recently unearthed texts were sent at around the time Apple declined to cooperate with FBI officials. It should be noted that neither Strzok nor Page worked on the Apple case, though Page was informed by an unknown party as to who the FBI contracted to unlock the terrorist's iPhone.

"And what makes me really angry about that Apple thing? The fact that Tim Cook plays such the privacy advocate," Strzok told Page in a text dated Feb. 9, 2016. "Yeah, jerky, your entire OS is designed to track me without me even knowing it."

"I know. Hypocrite," Page replied.

Shortly after word of the FBI request came out, Cook wrote an open letter to customers that was posted to the company's website. Strzok was none too pleased with the move.

"Oh god. And [REDACTED] is trying to explain/defend apple's position. Based entirely on the misinformation Apple and privacy groups are spewing," Strzok wrote.

Along with Apple, the pair criticize politicians, newspapers, spies and other entities, the reports says.

In related banter, Page reveals she persuaded an associate named Brian to "tell me the whole story of the Apple thing," referring to how the FBI accessed Farook's iPhone. Though the section of text is redacted, a response from Strzok seems to imply he, too, knows the identity of the third party.

"Hey, I was just following directions to keep it quiet," Strzok wrote. "Everyone and their mother wants to know how we did it and who the third party is. Hope he didn't tell you for former as that is likely classified by now..."

The entire string is worth a look, even if it only conveys the thoughts of two officials.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 32
    vmarksvmarks Posts: 592editor
    It would be very interesting to know how the entire OS is designed to track the user, and their basis for writing that.
    longpathJinTechdanhuraharabshankmagman1979Aviesheklolliverbonobobwatto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 32
    vmarks said:
    It would be very interesting to know how the entire OS is designed to track the user, and their basis for writing that.
    It appears as though Special Agent Strzok has iOS and Android confused.
    JinTechuraharaEsquireCatsbshankmagman1979lolliverbonobobracerhomie3macky the mackywatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 32
    JinTechJinTech Posts: 316member
    longpath said:
    vmarks said:
    It would be very interesting to know how the entire OS is designed to track the user, and their basis for writing that.
    It appears as though Special Agent Strzok has iOS and Android confused.
    Could not agree more. I’ll never trust using an Android phone. The only reason I bought an Amazon Fire tablet is for one app and the only reason it requires an internet connection is to access their cloud for storing documents. Other than that, I trust Apple’s security over Google by a large landslide!
    edited February 8 magman1979racerhomie3macky the mackylongpathwatto_cobraSgt Storms(trooper)lostkiwijony0
  • Reply 4 of 32
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,691member
    "Peter Strzok" and "Lisa Page" are pseudonyms created to obscure the true identities of the FBI agents involved in the exchange of these texts.

    The actual names of the FBI agents involved in this case are - "Beavis" and "Butthead."
    rob53EsquireCatsAvieshekmagman1979racerhomie3tmayradarthekatlolliverbestkeptsecretmacky the macky
  • Reply 5 of 32
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,258member
    dewme said:
    "Peter Strzok" and "Lisa Page" are pseudonyms created to obscure the true identities of the FBI agents involved in the exchange of these texts.

    The actual names of the FBI agents involved in this case are - "Beavis" and "Butthead."
    I laughed. Then I remembered these two are very highly remunerated by the taxpayer.
    longpathwatto_cobralostkiwi
  • Reply 6 of 32
    I'm still stuck on a few things:
    - why photos builds a ubiquitous image tagging database, with no off switch
    - why all install roads seem to lead to iCloud (takes a concerted effort to avoid)
    - why basic S/MIME email encryption is not offered by default 'for the rest of us'
    - why the app store seems so persistent in nature (no edit/delete)
    Can one slip of the mouse load all data to Apple servers...?
    Is this boil the frog territory, yet again...?
    Is HomePod listening (yet)...?
    edited February 8 Avieshek
  • Reply 7 of 32
    bshankbshank Posts: 140member
    Geez!
    edited February 8 watto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 32
    bshankbshank Posts: 140member
    I'm still stuck on a few things:
    - why photos builds a ubiquitous image tagging database, with no off switch
    - why all install roads seem to lead to iCloud (takes a concerted effort to avoid)
    - why basic S/MIME email encryption is not offered by default 'for the rest of us'
    - why the app store seems so persistent in nature (no edit/delete)
    Can one slip of the mouse load all data to Apple servers...?
    Is this boil the frog territory, yet again...?
    Is HomePod listening (yet)...?
    ICloud is one of the main security safeguards, and is building more toward a greater vision of iCloud serving as a single sign on service for any website you need to login to
    lolliverracerhomie3watto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 32
    Both Android and Apple track your location.  There are many many location services in iOS, you can turn them on and off in Settings.  If you turn of Location Services entirely you’ll get prompted frequently with the recommendation to turn it back on.

    Also, determining your “exact” location is increased if you turn WiFi ON.  Mine (+Bluetooth) is disabled unless needed.  The main problem with WiFi is unsecured networks, you don’t want to accidentally connect to one of those without a VPN enabled.

    Google tracts your online activity as well.  That’s generally not part of Apple’s business model...

    The biggest creepy thing in iOS is it randomly turns on WiFi without permission from the user....
    Avieshek
  • Reply 10 of 32
    They have confused Android with iOS.

    longpathwatto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 32
    Both Android and Apple track your location.  There are many many location services in iOS, you can turn them on and off in Settings.  If you turn of Location Services entirely you’ll get prompted frequently with the recommendation to turn it back on.

    Also, determining your “exact” location is increased if you turn WiFi ON.  Mine (+Bluetooth) is disabled unless needed.  The main problem with WiFi is unsecured networks, you don’t want to accidentally connect to one of those without a VPN enabled.

    Google tracts your online activity as well.  That’s generally not part of Apple’s business model...

    The biggest creepy thing in iOS is it randomly turns on WiFi without permission from the user....
    No , you need to turn it off from Settings or Siri.
    Control Center only disconnects from current network.After 1 day it turns back on.
    Apple does not make money by tracking your movements. Google does.HUGE difference.Apple does not need to care.
    edited February 9 watto_cobramike1lostkiwi
  • Reply 12 of 32
    chasmchasm Posts: 847member
    FBI agents are human beings still, and are still just as prone to make factual errors, rush to judgements, leaps to erroneous conclusions and other mistakes as everyone else (including some in this very thread). As noted in the correspondence, they misunderstood the nature of the OS versus the role of the carrier, did not understand the nuance of (for example) how Maps needs to know where you are to be useful versus Safari, which doesn’t, and are (rather unsurprisingly) anti-privacy for us but then switch to iMessage to enjoy the privacy it provides to help cover-up their affair. Hypocrite much, FBI? It does not surprise me at all that these agents (again as referenced in their chat) do not have the clearance to normally access classified materials ...
    edited February 9 longpathwatto_cobraSpamSandwichStrangeDays
  • Reply 13 of 32
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,217member
    I'm still stuck on a few things:
    - why photos builds a ubiquitous image tagging database, with no off switch
    - why all install roads seem to lead to iCloud (takes a concerted effort to avoid)
    - why basic S/MIME email encryption is not offered by default 'for the rest of us'
    - why the app store seems so persistent in nature (no edit/delete)
    Can one slip of the mouse load all data to Apple servers...?
    Is this boil the frog territory, yet again...?
    Is HomePod listening (yet)...?
    Why is it that you can massage your temples, but you can’t tickle yourself??
    watto_cobramike1lostkiwiStrangeDays
  • Reply 14 of 32
    Rayz2016Rayz2016 Posts: 4,217member
    “Yeah, jerky”

    Well I feel safer just knowing they’re out there. 
    watto_cobraking editor the grate
  • Reply 15 of 32
    zimmiezimmie Posts: 170member
    I'm still stuck on a few things:
    - why photos builds a ubiquitous image tagging database, with no off switch
    - why all install roads seem to lead to iCloud (takes a concerted effort to avoid)
    - why basic S/MIME email encryption is not offered by default 'for the rest of us'
    - why the app store seems so persistent in nature (no edit/delete)
    Can one slip of the mouse load all data to Apple servers...?
    Is this boil the frog territory, yet again...?
    Is HomePod listening (yet)...?
    The photo feature tagging is entirely local. It isn't building some database on Apple's servers (or any server, for that matter).

    I don't know what you're asking with the "all install roads seem to lead to iCloud". It's easy to use an iOS device without storing anything on iCloud.

    S/MIME probably isn't included because almost nobody uses it. I tried to for years, and I cannot count the number of times people said "What's this smime.p7s? Did you infect me with a virus?" It was deeply tedious explaining this to people.

    What are you talking about with the App Store line? Edit/delete what? A developer can edit their posted applications and delete them easily. A customer can also delete items from their purchase history. I'm not sure what else involving the App Store a person would want to edit or delete.

    No, one slip of a mouse can't upload everything to Apple's servers. iCloud backups are the closest you get to that, they don't include all data, and most users need more storage than the default 5 GB. Purchasing a storage upgrade accidentally would be quite a feat.

    As for HomePod, it (like everything with Hey Siri functionality so far) does keyword recognition fully locally. Until it recognizes the phrase "Hey Siri", it sends nothing anywhere. Once it hears the phrase, it starts sending some data to Apple to be recognized and processed. You can watch this with a network capture on a router or what-have-you.
    edited February 9 mattinozRayz2016Sgt Storms(trooper)StrangeDaysroundaboutnow
  • Reply 16 of 32
    These two seem to text more than they do anything else. When do they find time to actually work?
  • Reply 17 of 32
    Judges are not supposed to use court orders as bluffs, to see if they can get somebody to do something. They're supposed to issue court orders only when they are mentally and legally ready to issue arrest warrants as the next step, if the order is disobeyed. The simple fact that U.S. magistrate judge Sheri Pym issued no such warrants is litmus-test proof that she is abusing her power as judge. Our judiciary loses all credibility when it allows its members to issue court orders that they have no intention of enforcing.
  • Reply 18 of 32
    tshapitshapi Posts: 286member
    As is frequently stated “you are not apples product, but you are googles paycheck”  Apple has a vested interest to see what other services you spend your money on. At this point Apple also has a vested interest in knowing what you watch and what you listen to.

    so, from a services point of view regarding apps and such. I would not be entirely surprised if Apple does track “you”  remember people have the option to voluntarily opt in or out of sending diagnostic info to Apple for evaluation.  

    Frankly. I would much rather use an iPhone than an android. 

    Theres a major difference, between Apple “tracking” you and the government hacking into your iPhone looking for criminal evidence.  

    The latter is More about principle. Do Apple grants access, that sets a future precedent for the fbi and law enforcement officials to come back for more so to speak. 

    People criticize Apple for standing up for privacy in America. But not in China.  In America the government is built around the right to free speech and privacy for every individual. China is not. If Apple wants to Continue to sell the 1.5b Chinese they have to walk that tightrope and make compromises. They have to follow the letter of the Chinese law.  And that appears to mean a perceived invasion of privacy from the Chinese government. 
  • Reply 19 of 32
    airnerdairnerd Posts: 554member
    Hearing this actually reassures me in my thinking that my info is safer with Apple than the others.  
  • Reply 20 of 32
    vmarks said:
    It would be very interesting to know how the entire OS is designed to track the user, and their basis for writing that.
    I think, the agent equated iOS to Android OS. I doubt the agent has the technical knowledge to learn that on his own. Besides, if Apple does indeed do that, it will backfire on them really quickly, ones it publicly known. I doubt that Apple is dumb enough to put that time nuclear bomb under their whole business. Too risky and there is almost no reward for that, since Apple does not sell ads and does not need to target a group of people with them.

    I think, that FBI agent pulled that argument straight from his arse, in order to make Apple look bad in his argument.
    edited February 9 lostkiwi
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